Syrian regime begins 'regularisation' process in former opposition town as residents claim neglect
Syrian regime authorities on Tuesday began a process to "regularise the status" of wanted people in the formerly rebel-held town of Moadamiyeh, south-west of Damascus, on Tuesday.
It comes as local residents accused it of running protection rackets and neglecting essential services.
The Syrian regime news agency SANA said that a centre had been set up in a local school for people who were "wanted or had delayed or had run away from" military service in the regime army to register.
It said that this was a "golden opportunity" for those wanted by the regime, apparently referring to both people wanted for military service or for alleged opposition activity.
The state media outlet added that the process would complete a similar "regularisation process" conducted by the regime in Moadamiyeh in 2016.
SANA claimed a large number of people are taking part in the process, however, local residents who spoke to The New Arab's Arabic-language service said that it was largely a media exercise.
Mohammed M., a local resident who did not give his full name for safety reasons, said that the regime-allied "Capital Shield" militia had been in full control of the town for four years and that regime checkpoints were all over the city, able to arrest wanted people.
Hundreds of people have been arrested in Moadamiyeh over the past four years, with many residents still in prison or forcibly disappeared.
Human rights organisations have said that the regime has detained or "forcibly disappeared" tens of thousands of people across the country ever since the Syrian uprising broke out in 2011.
Another local resident, who gave his name only as Abdullah, told The New Arab's Arabic-language service that regime security forces and pro-regime militia were running a protection racket in the town, imposing levies on local traders in order to protect them from robbery.
He said that in the previous months a number of traders at the market had been attacked, and that the regime was not providing essential services - such as garbage collection and control of stray animals - to the suburb.
"The regime has neglected the city totally, in all aspects of life - there is no electricity or fuel and prices are high. Now it's saying that it is regularising people's statuses - it would have been better if there were improvements in services, the economy, and health," Abdullah added.
Moadamiyeh was a centre of protests and opposition to the regime when the 2011 uprising against Bashar Al-Assad's rule began.
It fell under the control of anti-Assad rebels and was one of the targets of an August 2013 regime chemical attack targeting the Ghouta area surrounding Damascus which killed over 1,400 people.
The town was taken over by the regime in October 2016, with most of the rebels leaving for Idlib province.